Mar 12, 2009

US avoids commenting on Pakistani politics

At a regular briefing, State Department spokesman Robert Wood had to face a barrage of questions on the two disputes but he refused to be dragged into a discussion on whether what the government was doing was right or wrong. ‘Our position remains basically that we support freedom of speech, of expression, of assembly in Pakistan,’ said Wood. ‘What we think is important is that the various parties try to resolve their differences within the political system of Pakistan in accordance with its constitution.’ The US government, he said, was to follow the situation but, at this time, it would urge all parties to refrain from violence and act in accordance with Pakistan’s constitution. Regarding the imposition of Section 144, Wood said ‘well, look, the government took a decision on its own. It’s a sovereign government. All I can say is what our policy is with regard to freedom of seam assembly. And that’s a long- standing policy.’ ‘What we want to see happen on the ground in Pakistan is that the opposition parties, the government acts in accordance with Pakistan’s constitution. If that’s, indeed, the case, there’s nothing more we can say or do about it,’ said Wood. Many questions were asked with regard to imposition of martial law, freedom of expression and the crackdown on political activists in Pakistan but Wood only offered rhetoric as his reply saying that ‘well, I’ve seen reports about what’s been going on. But, again, as I said, we’re following the situation. But what I wanted to give you was our position, where we stand with regard to freedom of expression and assembly.’ ‘I’m standing here at the podium. I’m not on the ground. All I can do is give you what our views are,’ said Wood. ‘You have very able diplomats in Islamabad and elsewhere,’ a journalist quipped.
‘And they’re following the situation,’ said Wood. ‘And they're unable to come to any conclusion about what's going on there?’ he was asked. ‘Well, things are taking place on the ground right now. I can’t give you, the 11:17 am assessment of where things are. All I can tell you is what our views are with regard to the situation as I’ve spelled them out,’ said Wood. ‘What’s the US position on the restoration of judges?’ he was asked. ‘What we want to see happen in Pakistan is that all of the parties, in accordance with the laws of the country, try to resolve their differences. It’s a difficult situation on the ground in Pakistan, I understand that,’ said Wood. ‘You haven’t been clear at all about where the US stands on what’s going on in Pakistan,’ said a journalist. ‘I have given you what our position is. I can’t give you an assessment of what’s taking place right at this moment on the ground,’ said Wood. ‘That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking, what is your position on reinstatement of the chief judge,’ the journalist asked. ‘That’s something that’s going to have to be determined by the Pakistanis in accordance with their laws and their constitution. I can’t go beyond that,’ said Wood. ‘But when President Musharraf installed a state of emergency to avoid the reinstatement of the judges, you had called for the reinstatement of the judges,’ the journalist reminded him. ‘Look, I’m giving you what the policy is right now. And as I’ve said, this is something that needs to be worked out within Pakistan’s political sphere in accordance with its laws. That’s about the best I can give you,’ said Wood. ‘Your position can be interpreted as support for the Zardari government and alienate more Pakistanis,’ said another journalist. ‘I wouldn’t give you that interpretation. What I’m saying is that there’s a difficult political situation on the ground in Pakistan. What we don’t want to see is further violence. We want to see the rule of law respected. We want to see freedom of expression and assembly carried out. And that’s where we are,’ said Wood. ‘Are you working on any sort of contingency plans, if this situation deteriorates even further?’ asked a journalist. ‘First of all, that’s speculation with regard to contingencies. And I wouldn’t discuss those from the podium, anyway,’ Wood replied.‘Can you tell us, whether you have conveyed to the Pakistanis that you would prefer to see people’s rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech be respected before Thursday’s rally?’ he was asked. ‘Specifically with this incident, I don’t know. But I think it’s certainly fair to say that we would want to see, in the midst of all of this, respect for the right for people to freely assemble and to be able to express their views. But with regard to this particular case, I don’t know,’ said Wood.

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